Surely there is no better way to launch a Handel Festival than with the coronation anthem that begins with the majesty of "Zadok, the Priest." That's the way Paul Traver opened the University of Maryland's festival last light in the university's Memorial Chapel.
Handel uses such simple means and yet creates such an overwhelming sense of limitless power and might! Traver programmed all four of the coronation anthems last night -- the others, less familiar, were "Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened," "My Heart Is Inditing," and "The King Shall Rejoice."
There is a reason for their being less well-known. Anyone who has listened to the coronation of a British monarch since 1729 on has heard "Zadok, the Priest." And it does make an impression that none of the others produce, lovely though they are.
Traver's chorus sings impeccably. Yet there is an element that was missing, though purists may argue the matter: a kind of uncontainable exuberance. If only the singers had given the impression they were shouting those glorious words instead of simply singing them. It was a little too polite, too restrained, almost chaste.
Catherine Crozier was the soloist in three of the organ concertos. These are works in which Handel delighted in improvising, with passages he often failed to write out, simply indicating that at certain points the solo part was to be made up on the spot. With an excellent chamber orchestra, Crozier succeeded in suggesting something of this feeling, perhaps more in the lively G Minor Concerto than in the others. But the portative organ on which she played did not permit much variety in color, nor could the increasingly brilliant passages in the final variations of the G Minor be adequately heard.
But Handel is well launched, and will be heard again in the chapel tonight at 8 and tomorrow afternoon at 3, when a complete "Messiah" will be sung.